The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the Asociación Nacional de Abogados Democráticos (ANAD) filed a complaint with the Mexican Department of Labor on Monday against Alabama’s harsh immigration law, HB 56. The SEIU, which represents 2.1 million workers in North America, wrote in the complaint that the law violates international human rights and labor rights standards and is in direct conflict with the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
Specifically, both organizations argue that HB 56 contradicts the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation—a supplemental labor agreement to NAFTA—by “creating a climate of fear and intimidation that chills immigrant workers and their co-workers who seek to form trade unions, bargain collectively or participate in other worker advocacy organizations.” The complaint goes on to claim that HB 56 contributes to increased racial discrimination, minimum wage and overtime violations, workplace health and safety hazards, and discrimination against workers who appear foreign.
The Mexican Labor Department will now launch an investigation into the allegations. “We are confident they will see HB 56 for what it is: an immoral racial profiling law that now threatens workers and economic stability,” said Eliseo Medina, SEIU's International Secretary-Treasurer. SEIU filed a similar complain last month with the International Labour Organization.
Monday’s complaint focuses on the economic and labor consequences of HB 56, but this type of harsh immigration legislation also takes a significant social toll on immigrant families, and particularly children—including many who are U.S. citizens—argues Marcelo M. Suárez-Orozco in, “The Dream Deferred,” published last week in the Spring 2012 issue of Americas Quarterly.
This past weekend, 150 immigrant rights activists from around the country descended upon Montgomery, Alabama, to show solidarity with local leaders fighting against the state’s draconian immigration bill, HB 56, and plan a national strategy for 2012.
The two-day Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM) Summit was perhaps most notable for its culmination, a front-page affair. On Saturday, the activists, who came from 35 organizations from roughly 30 states, participated in a 2,500-person rally and march in the state capital.
The rally began in front of the state legislature, where the notorious bill was passed. There, speakers ranging from undocumented Alabamian students to SEIU secretary-treasurer Eliseo Medina railed against the pain being caused by HB 56. Students told of losing friends, whose families had left the state in recent months for fear of being detained by the police and being separated from their families. Civil rights leaders, meanwhile, warned against the dangers of going back to the “dark days” of segregation in the state. Orator after orator insisted on the need to repeal the law and build a brighter, more inclusive, future for Alabama.
The protesters (this writer included) then marched to the mansion of Governor Bentley, who signed the law into effect and has been one of its staunchest supporters and has even traveled abroad to convince investors that Alabama is still “open for business.” The marchers hailed from all over Alabama—with a particularly strong contingent from the NAACP—and throughout the country, and their diversity was perhaps best encapsulated by a chant that pulsed through the streets of Montgomery:
Del norte al sur
Del este al oeste
Ganaremos esta lucha
Cueste lo que cueste
Ultimately, the rally and mobilization made one of the largest public statements against HB 56 since the law’s passage, but it was also important because it signaled the incipient organizing muscle that is being built in Alabama’s immigrant rights community. Several months ago there were virtually no full-time community organizers working with immigrants in Alabama. Now, the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice and its national supporters are working hard to build up that capacity, with the ultimate hope of building enough grassroots power to repeal HB 56. Over the next months, organizers will be coordinating house meetings to bring people together, as well as further public actions during the upcoming legislative session.
Yesterday U.S. District Judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn did not stop several provisions of Alabama’s HB 56—signed by Governor Robert Bentley on June 9, 2011—in a court ruling following Department of Justice efforts to block the bill. Following Arizona’s SB 1070, Alabama is the fifth state to enact legislation targeting undocumented immigrants and is the first to be upheld. This year federal judges have blocked the implementation of copycat laws in Utah, Indiana, Georgia, and South Carolina.
In August, the Department of Justice filed a suit against HB 56 at the District Court of the Northern District of Alabama on the basis of its unconstitutionality. In announcing the suit, Attorney General Eric Holder highlighted that “that setting immigration policy and enforcing immigration laws is a national responsibility that cannot be addressed through a patchwork of state immigration laws.” The law was also challenged by countries like Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, and Colombia, and civil rights organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).
Alabama’s HB 56 provisions are more severe than those of other copycat laws and the bill that set off this most recent wave of anti-immigrant legislation, SB 1070. With yesterday’s ruling, state law enforcement officials can stop and detain any person suspected of being in the country without authorization and schools are now required to verify the immigration status of students. Judge Blackburn also considered constitutional the sections that nullify contracts signed with undocumented immigrants and that makes it a felony for unauthorized immigrants to apply for official documentation.
The sections that were struck down pertain to labor law including the provisions preventing unauthorized immigrants from seeking work as an employee or independent contractor and criminalizing those who assist the undocumented.
In a press release, Mary Bauer, from the SPLC, said yesterday the decision "not only places Alabama on the wrong side of history but also demonstrates that the rights and freedoms so fundamental to our nation and its history can be manipulated by hate and political agendas—at least for a time." The SPLC, ACLU, the National Immigration Law Center (NILC), and the coalition of civil rights groups challenging the law announced they will appeal yesterday’s decision.